A recent dinner at our house: Paleo Shepherd’s pie with free-range ground beef, topped with a mixture of mashed roast yams and free-range local eggs – yum!
*Jan. 18, 2017: Post updated with clearer guidelines on potatoes and other root vegetables*
This post is for reader Irma T., who asked “What do you eat, Anne?”
Thanks for this great question, Irma, and good luck on your journey to optimum health!
Detailed lists of what to eat and what to avoid are below, and a printable version is here (PDF, 2 pp.)
In a nutshell:
- Meat, eggs, seafood
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Nuts and seeds, in moderation
- Fruit, in moderation
- Plus, if you can tolerate it, full-fat dairy (butter, whipping cream, cheese, yogurt)
- Don’t count calories or watch portion sizes – eat when hungry, stop when full (but not stuffed)
- Try to eat only 3 meals a day (one snack is OK). If you’re constantly grazing, you’re constantly triggering insulin, the fat-storage hormone. It’s fine to let yourself get a bit hungry between meals.
- However, another strategy – especially in the initial stages of transitioning to this way of eating — is not to let yourself get too hungry. For example, before going to a restaurant or a party, eat something small (a handful of nuts, a piece of cheese) to take the edge off your hunger. This way, it’s easier to make wise choices later.
- If you’re worried about feeling deprived, schedule one cheat meal a week: cake, pizza, ice cream – bring it on! If you eat 21 meals a week, this is only 5% of your total. A 95% success rate sounds pretty good to me! As you get used to this way of eating, your tastes will probably change. At that point, you may want to switch to one cheat meal a month — this is where I am now.
- And finally, adjust the lists below as needed – for example, if you don’t do well with dairy, eliminate it.
A note about dairy
I’ve included dairy products in the “What I eat” list below even though I no longer eat them myself (they make me break out). As well, under strict Paleo guidelines, dairy products would not be included:
- Cows’ milk is for baby cows
- Modern humans are the only species who drink the milk of another animal.
- Applying our Paleo (caveman) lens, can you imagine a wild mother antelope letting one of our ancient ancestors milk her? Seems unlikely.
But there are benefits to dairy products, which is why they’re in the list below:
- Good source of healthy fats
- Can make the transition to low-carb Paleo eating much easier
- Satisfying and delicious!
Anyway — on to the lists! The printable version is here (PDF, 2 pp.)
What I DO eat
Free-range organic preferred if possible (healthier fatty acid profile, better living conditions for the animals):
- Cheese (full-fat varieties) — if you can tolerate dairy.
- Eggs (definitely free-range organic)
- Meats: Beef, buffalo, lamb, pork, etc. — and wild game (moose, venison), if you’re lucky enough to have a source.
- Poultry: Turkey, chicken, duck, etc.
- Seafood: Fish, crab, shrimp, clams, oysters, mussels, etc.
- Processed meats in moderation: Bacon, salami, ham, sausages. (watch out for high levels of added sugars)
- Organ meats: Liver, liver paste, kidneys, etc.
- Avocado (yum!)
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Cassava (in moderation)
- Green beans
- Lettuce (any)
- Seaweed (any)
- Snap peas/ snow peas
- Spaghetti squash
- Squash (in moderation)
- Sui choy
- Sweet potatoes (in moderation)
- Yams (in moderation)
In moderation – avoid very sweet varieties such as bananas, mangoes, etc. All the same nutrients that fruit provides are also provided by vegetables. There is no nutrient that is only provided by fruit.
And, modern fruits are very different from those available to our ancient ancestors – they’ve been bred to be much larger, sweeter, and less fibrous. Plus, they’re available to us year round, whereas in ancient times, they were a seasonal treat.
Also, fruit is nature’s candy. I’ll say it again — fruit is nature’s CANDY. And you know what I think about candy
Note: Berries are the lowest-carb fruits.
- Berries (Costco has bags of frozen mixed berries; microwave some in a bowl for 1 – 2 min for a nice dessert)
- Figs (fresh, not dried)
Fats and condiments:
- Whipping cream and butter, organic free-range preferred (if you can tolerate dairy)
- Coconut oil/milk
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
- Mustard (no added sugar)
- Vinegar (no added sugar – beware of balsamic, as it can be quite sweet)
- Any herbs and spices
- Pickles (no added sugar)
- Tea and coffee are fine (add whipping cream or coconut milk and a few drops of stevia liquid if you like)
- Dry wine
- Low-carb beer (in moderation)
- In moderation: Nuts (almond, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, macadamias, cashews – no peanuts); nut butters (except peanut butter); seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower); seed butters. Costco has bags of raw nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts) that are good value – store in fridge or freezer.
- Jerky (preferably homemade, to avoid added sugars)
- Cheese (full-fat varieties)
- 99% chocolate (Lindt makes a bar, available at London Drugs); a piece of 99% chocolate pushed into a small bowl of ricotta cheese and microwaved for 20 – 30 sec. tastes like chocolate pudding.
What I DON’T eat
Grains and pseudo-grains (like quinoa), or products made from them
Why: Grains and pseudo-grains like quinoa contain toxic anti-nutrients, such as gluten and phytates. Many people, including me, are sensitive to gluten. Phytates bind to minerals in the food in question, rendering those minerals unavailable to our bodies.
Grains don’t supply any nutrients that you can’t get in other food groups. They’re also starchy and promote the release of insulin, the fat-storage hormone.
See more on grains in this great post from Mark’s Daily Apple.
- Wheat (white flour, whole-wheat flour, wheat germ, wheat bran)
- Rice (white, brown, wild, basmati, or any other kind)
- Oats & oat bran
- Corn & cornstarch
- Pizza crust
- Any other baked goods made with grains
If you must have a sweetener, stevia is probably the best option, but it can still trigger sugar cravings, which is why I’m avoiding it during my Sugar-Free Year: Absolute Zero.
If you use it, choose liquid stevia, because stevia powder is sometimes cut with other sweeteners.
- Sugar, brown sugar
- Coconut sugar
- Agave syrup
- Golden syrup
- Maple syrup
- Artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, Equal, NutraSweet, sucralose and aspartame.
- Pop (including diet pop – the sweeteners trigger cravings)
- Sauces & condiments with sugar (HP sauce, Worcester-shire sauce, ketchup, sweet pickles – read labels)
- Sweet wines or liqueurs
The potato/starchy vegetable group is a bit complex. What you choose to eat from this group depends on:
- How your body reacts to carb-rich foods
- Whether you want to lose weight
- Whether you have autoimmune issues
- How strictly Paleo you want to be
I completely avoid “regular” potatoes, because they’re very addictive for me, and they’re also not technically Paleo (they don’t pass the “can you eat it raw?” test.
As well, they sometimes trigger joint pain for me. I’m susceptible to this because of an autoimmune disorder I have, reactive arthritis.
Potatoes can also be slightly toxic when eaten raw because of solanine, which collects in their skins if they’re exposed to light. (It shows as light green patches on the potato’s skin.) Peeling helps, but any remaining solanine isn’t deactivated through cooking.
On the other hand, yams, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, squashes, and beets can safely be eaten raw (they’re actually quite delicious – slightly sweet and crunchy).
Cassava (also called yuca or manioc) is another special case for me. This is the root of a woody tropical shrub; it can be found raw in Asian markets or large grocery stores as either large sliced chunks or a puree.It must always be cooked, because it’s mildly toxic when raw, making it not technically Paleo. However, unlike potatoes, it doesn’t trigger autoimmune issues. I enjoy it as an occasional starchy gluten-free treat.
- Potatoes, potato chips, French fries
Avoid if you’re trying to lose weight –otherwise, OK in moderation, if you tolerate them :
- Winter squashes (hubbard, kabocha, acorn, etc.)
- Sweet potatoes
Legumes (beans, peas, etc.)
Why: Some legumes contain phytates (see Grains, above for explanation); they’re not really a dense protein source (most contain two to three times as much carbohydrate as protein); less micronutrient density and fiber than most vegetables and fruits.
- Lentils; any beans, including garbanzos/chick peas (no hummus!);
- Peas (but snap peas, green beans and snow peas are OK, because they’re more pod than pea)
- Peanuts: Peanut lectins provoke an immune response, promoting systemic inflammation.
- Soy beans or soy products (tofu, miso, tempeh, edamame, soy sauce). Why: Soybeans contain compounds called isoflavones, which are types of phytoestrogens. Our bodies — male and female — treat these as a female reproductive hormone.
Dried fruits, sweet tropical fruits, and fruit juices
Why: They provide a level sweetness your body isn’t equipped to handle, resulting in a significant release of insulin (the fat-storage hormone); may also trigger sugar cravings.
- Dates, dried figs, raisins, prunes
- Other dried fruit: apricots, papayas, mangoes, etc.
- Apple chips and banana chips
- Bananas, mangoes, papayas, guavas
- Fruit juices (even if unsweetened)
Most dairy – exceptions are whipping cream, full-fat cheese and yogurt, and butter
Why: Although it doesn’t taste sweet, dairy causes a significant release of insulin, similar to that caused by eating sugars, dried fruit, etc.
- Milk (skim, 1%, 2%, powdered)
- Half and half
- Low-fat yogurt, especially if sweetened
- Low-fat cheese
- Ice cream (any type, becacuse of the added sugars)
- Frozen yogurt (ditto)